CINCINNATI — The Bengals may not have a player in the Pro Bowl for the first time since 2010 unless safety Clayton Fejedelem gets a late call.
Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, selected to the most Pro Bowls (seven) of any defender in Bengals history, pulled out Tuesday with an unspecified injury, according to NFL.com.Atkins, voted a starter, was the only Bengal chosen to the AFC team, but four were picked as alternates.
The Bengal with the best chance to get a late invitation appears to be Fejedelem, voted first alternate special teamer.
Fejedelem could step in if Chargers safety Adrian Phillips withdraws due to an injury in last Sunday’s AFC divisional loss to New England. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Phillips tore a muscle in his left arm or shoulder, though Phillips finished the game.
Fejedelem, a seventh-round pick in 2016, led the Bengals in special team tackles the past two seasons and grabbed the spotlight in the 2018 opener against the Colts. Filling in for injured safety Shawn Williams, Fejedelem made a game-saving play with 24 seconds left to clinch a 34-23 victory when he caused a fumble with a big hit on tight end Jack Doyle at the 17-yard line, scooped up the ball and returned it 83 yards for a TD.
The Bengals have two third alternates for the Pro Bowl, running back Joe Mixon, who led the AFC in rushing yards (1,168), and return specialist Alex Erickson, second in kick return yardage (1,049). But their chances of being added to the AFC roster are slim to none. Wide receiver A.J. Green, a fourth alternate, is out after foot surgery.
At this late stage, Pro Bowl wannabes are looking to replace players who make the Super Bowl or get hurt in the conference championship games, but that's not going to happen for Mixon or Erickson since none of the running backs or kick returners ahead of them are Chiefs or Patriots.
One AFC running back, Phillip Lindsay of the Broncos, has withdrawn, replaced by first alternate Lamar Miller of the Texans. But James Conner of the Steelers and Melvin Gordon of the Chargers would have to drop out for Mixon to get the call. Browns running back Nick Chubb is second alternate.
Unlike the baseball All-Star Game, the Pro Bowl does not require that every team be represented. The Raiders and Bucs don't have any Pro Bowlers this year. The voting is split evenly between fans, players and coaches.
Considering tight end Tyler Eifert’s ankle/foot injury in the 2016 Pro Bowl, it might be better if the Bengals passed on the game altogether. Eifert missed the first seven games of the 2016 season because of that injury and vowed to never play in the Pro Bowl again.
Panthers linebacker and Cincinnati native Luke Kuechly also dropped out Tuesday due to an unspecified injury. Although the former St. Xavier High star was named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl, this will be the fourth year in a row that he has not played. In 2016, it was because the Panthers were in the Super Bowl. In 2017, he was still recovering from a concussion in Week 11. He missed the 2018 Pro Bowl because he was scheduled for offseason shoulder surgery.
The Pro Bowl kicks off at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 27 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.